Three generations of swimmers take on Hong Kong's open waters

Grandmother, 64, mother, and her daughter, eight, push each other in training to better their ocean swimming race times

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 September, 2015, 9:17pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 September, 2015, 9:31pm

Is there such a thing as a sporting gene? This month we meet three families with a strong sporting background, suggesting a passion for sport may indeed be hardwired in our genes.

Ocean swimming with only your fears for company is not a sport for everybody. But for three generations of women in the MacDonald-Jesse clan, swimming in the open water is a regular family event.

Dallas Jesse, 64, Elizabeth MacDonald, 35 and Isobel "Issy" MacDonald-Jesse, eight, are an Australian grandmother, mother and daughter swimming trio taking an active part in Hong Kong's growing open-water swimming community.

Just last weekend Elizabeth finished top in her field at the 1.4km Revolution Asia Swim race from Middle Island to Deep Water Bay and Issy finished fourth in her junior race while Dallas cheered from the sidelines. "The long race wasn't long enough for me - I prefer races that are two to three kilometres long," she says.

It's their collective competitive spirit that motivates each generation. "I find it really inspiring having mum there at trainings and races. It makes you realise you don't have to stop," says Elizabeth.

Adds Issy: "I think it's really cool Nana swims. We are a swimming family - I also play netball and hockey, but swimming is my favourite."

Intrigued by Elizabeth's open-water swimming for several years, Dallas finally plucked up the courage to try two years ago after hip replacement surgery. She now swims regularly with the Open Water Swimmers of Hong Kong.

"Open-water swimming has had such a huge impact on me," she says. "Everyone can do it and it's a great family activity, too. I love how nobody knows who I am or how old I am out there; you're the same as everyone else."

"Swimming brings a lot of discipline to life," adds Elizabeth, a regular competitor in local Masters Swimming meets and two-time international masters swimmer with the Ladies Recreation Club. "It requires a lot of early starts and hard work - you can't fake swimming, you only get out what you put into it in terms of training hours."

The family's goal is to field a team for the annual Clean Half event- a 15km relay swim from Stanley Main Beach to Deep Water Bay - in the next few years when Issy is older. The team of five will include Isabelle's twin brother Felix, also eight, and Elizabeth's brother Ben, also a swimmer.

What's the benefit of having a family that swims?

Issy: Mum gives me swimming tips, like how to get past people and swim faster. I think it's really cool that Nana swims.

Elizabeth: there are definitely advantages having Mum in the same swim club. "Nana's taxi", we joke, drives me and some other club members into work after swimming. It's a treat. But it's just great to look over in the next lane in training and see your Mum. It's a true family affair.

Dallas: when I started swimming after surgery, Liz helped to build my confidence. Early on it was difficult for me to get up on the blocks to compete, and she was the one that convinced me to try the open water.

What's your tip for anyone looking to improve his or her swimming?

Issy: listen to my Mum.

Elizabeth: swimming is all about consistency. You spend a week away from the pool and it will take you three weeks to get back into it. I try and do two to three good sessions a week, no matter where I am in the world. There's such a big difference between one to two sessions, then two to three.

Dallas: as you get older, no matter what you do, you have to be consistent to maintain your fitness and keep the weight off. I'm now walking several times a week plus swimming. And it does; I'm really fit right now.

What does competition bring to your life?

Dallas: competition is about having a goal in life. It's also about travelling. I am just back from a race in Noosa and I'm heading to Fiji in October for another ocean race. I can't think of a better way to see the world.

Elizabeth: competition is motivating; it helps during training to have a goal - however distant. Plus, as mum says, swimming takes our family all around the world: I've competed in Vanuatu, Greece, Spain and Australia and in two Masters Competitions in Italy and Montreal with the LRC Masters Swim team. The plan is to take the family to Turkey next year and Budapest in 2017 for the World Masters Games.

Issy: I like it when I get to see all my friends. And when I'm older I want to be like Mum and Nana and swim internationally.

Do you ever get scared?

Elizabeth: Hong Kong is safe for open-water swimming and that's the message we keep reinforcing in our family, especially to encourage the children. When the water is clearer I find myself worrying about what's out there more, so when I can't see it's actually better.

Dallas: I do find it scary being in the open water sometimes. When swimming across a strait in Vanuatu recently, the currents separated me from the pack and all of a sudden I was on my own out there. I started wondering what's down there. At moments like that ocean swimming can be frightening. But we made it to the beach and it was worth it.

Do you prefer being in the open water or following the black line?

Elizabeth: I love the black line. An hour in the pool can pass very quickly when you have that to focus on, your friends around you and a coach telling you what to do.

Dallas: I love the black line, too.

Issy: so do I.